My Kid Got Arrested, What Now?: Part II – Choosing a Criminal Defense Lawyer

         

Mike DiCindio, West Chester Criminal Defense Lawyer

How to Choose A Criminal Defense Attorney

Choosing a Criminal Defense Lawyer

In part one of this two part article, I provided an overview of the criminal justice process in order to give a parent the ability to understand, in a general sense, what to expect if his or her child has been charged with a criminal offense. In this follow-up article, I will be providing things to consider before choosing a criminal defense lawyer to represent your child at this most important time in his/her life. These are not meant to be hard and fast rules, but instead, a list of considerations when talking to, and meeting with, prospective attorneys.

When your child has been charged with a crime, whether a summary or a felony, it is crucial to have able counsel by his/her side in order to properly advise, argue on behalf of, and protect his/her rights. In today’s culture, it is ever so easy to find a lawyer’s name and contact information. But what should you as a parent expect from an attorney, and what should you look for before hiring one? Hopefully, this article will lend some guidance.

Choosing the Right Lawyer

Find someone who works in the criminal field – All too often a family friend who is a (insert anything but criminal) lawyer is hired to represent someone in a criminal matter. Under the ethical rules that govern attorney conduct in Pennsylvania, any lawyer is permitted to take a case outside of their normal practice area if they can properly educate themselves and represent the accused competently. Still, ask yourself this question – “Would I go to a dentist if I was having a problem with my vision?” The answer is, no. Find someone who devotes a part, or all, of their practice to criminal law and who has the experience to understand the process and properly and efficiently help your child navigate it. This will help to ensure that the best possible outcome is reached.

Hire an attorney who works in the geographic area that your child was charged in  – Sometimes the best attorneys are a few towns over. There is no doubt that there are great attorneys everywhere, but there is something to be said about finding an attorney who is well versed in the local Court rules, practices and procedures. It will eliminate the guesswork in your conversations and will provide for more productive preparation for upcoming Court dates and arguments. Each county in Pennsylvania has its own diversionary programs, Court procedures and rules – and these are just a few of the many things that vary county to county and Courtroom to Courtroom. The attorney you hire for your child should have some level of familiarity with the jurisdiction in which your child will be appearing.

Hire an attorney who is responsive and accessible – When you call a prospective attorney – if you don’t get a call back in a reasonable time-frame, cannot speak to the attorney on the phone directly about your case, or can’t get a meeting scheduled when you are inquiring about hiring them – assume that he/she will be that way for the remainder of the time they are representing your child. Unfortunately, there are attorneys who, once paid, become much less accessible. The only way to guard against this is to pay attention to how they behave during the initial interactions. Did they speak to you directly? Did they offer a meeting in a reasonable time-frame? This is an important time for you, your family, and your child. You should, and deserve to, have someone who you are paying available a reasonable amount of time for questions and direction. With that being said, remember that criminal lawyers are typically in and out of Court on a daily basis. Be courteous with the amount of times you call, and try to address all of your questions in groups instead of calling each time one question arises (unless it is an emergency, of course).

Know WHO you are hiring – If your initial meeting is with the lawyer who has his/her name on the door, ask him/her if they PERSONALLY will be appearing at Court on your child’s behalf. It is not uncommon to meet with the partner of the firm for the initial intake only to have an associate show up when it is time to go to Court. This is not always a bad thing (and remember, the partner likely started as an associate somewhere!) but it is something that should not be a surprise to your child. Ask those questions in the initial intake and ask to meet the associates who may appear on your child’s behalf. It will allow you to determine if you and your child feel comfortable with their representation. Your child should know who his/her lawyer is. You should know who is working on your child’s case. You and your child should get who you hired.

Hire someone who tells you what you need to hear not what you want to hear – Attorneys cannot promise specific results. It is an immediate red flag if someone is telling you that they guarantee you a certain disposition, plea deal, or to beat the charges outright. Promising to work hard for your child, explaining to you their depth of knowledge and experience with the type of case your child needs representation for, ensuring to explore every legal avenue for your child in their defense, these are all okay. Criminal defense is complex. Success in each case depends on MANY factors and is defined differently in each situation. Who is the assigned prosecutor? Who is the Judge? What are the charges? What does the victim want? Does your child have prior offenses or is this his first time in trouble? Who is the arresting officer? These are just a few. As you can see, with even these few variables alone (which are just the tip of the iceberg) it is incredibly hard to predict what will happen in a case. Beyond that, you don’t want an attorney who simply appeases your child and you to get your business when your child says “this case shouldn’t have been charged, the cop was wrong so it is going to go away, right?” It is important for an attorney to be able to have hard conversations with you and your child. To tell your child what he/she needs to hear, not what he/she wants to hear. This is the only way to ensure that your child is always making the right/best decisions throughout the process of his case. For example, if your child wants a trial because he believes he has a defense that can beat the case, the attorney should tell him if he is incorrect and explain why the plea deal that is being offered is better for him in the long run. Or the opposite when a case should be brought to trial.

You don’t HAVE to break the bank to get great representation – The best attorney costs the most money, right? Not necessarily. Sometimes a very busy attorney will charge higher prices because they do not have a lot of time to take new cases. It helps them be more selective when only some people will be able to afford their services. Or sometimes attorneys are simply just overpriced. The price tag is not the only sign of a good lawyer. Think about the above listed factors. There is no doubt, the top-tier criminal defense attorneys are likely going to be more expensive, and their results, reputation and experience demand that. Still, don’t discount any attorney because their fees are lower, and don’t think that price alone dictates talent. It surely does not. Incredibly expensive cars still have lemons from time-to-time, and sometimes, the most economical car is the one that will last the longest. Use price as a factor, but not the ONLY factor.

 


 

The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant.  The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments.  These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances.  It is intended solely for informational purposes.

Michael DiCindio is a West Chester criminal defense lawyer who represents individuals accused of crimes throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale.

PBT Tests – When can the results be used against you?

 

A “PBT test”, or preliminary breath test, is a device that allows an officer to test a person’s blood alcohol concentration without transporting them for a formal breath or blood test. These PBT’s are typically utilized by officers in DUI, drunk driving and underage drinking cases. While commonly used and accepted in practice, on scene by law enforcement officers, the results from these PBT devices have been found to be inadmissible in Court. There are certain limited times when they will be admissible – when specific requirements are met. (Which is not common) Also, they are permitted for certain pre-arrest investigative purposes.

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Contact West Chester DUI lawyer Mike DiCindio to discuss your case

In 2009 the Court in Commonwealth v. Brigidi made clear that the results of PBT tests may be admissible in certain cases (underage drinking matters). This was only if the results were obtained by a device that was approved and listed in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Further, there was the added requirement of the device being calibrated and correctly checked for accuracy.

In the real world application, PBT tests are typically used for two major things. First, in underage drinking prosecutions, in order to determine if the person underage was consuming an alcoholic beverage. Second, in DUI and drunk driving cases when the officer administers a PBT at the scene of the vehicle stop in order to develop probable cause that the driver of the vehicle was under the influence of alcohol. This would then be a factor in determining if the individual should be arrested and transported for a formal breath or blood test.

If you have been charged with DUI, drunk driving or underage drinking and a PBT was administered by the officers conducting the investigation, it is important to have a skilled criminal defense attorney examine the evidence and represent you in Court in order to protect against inadmissible evidence being used against you.

In West Chester and the Chester County area, law enforcement officers utilize PBT tests regularly. A skilled and knowledgeable Chester County DUI and criminal defense attorney should be contacted if you or a loved one is in this position.

Contact Mike DiCindio today to schedule your free initial consultation and go to the DUI and Underage Drinking sections of the DiCindio Law website to read more about these crimes.

 


 

The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant.  The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments.  These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances.  Please contact DiCindio Law for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case.

Mike DiCindio is a criminal defense lawyer who represents individuals accused of crimes throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale as well as in Montgomery County, Lancaster County, Delaware County, Philadelphia County, Bucks County and Berks County.

 

 

Holiday Season = Parties, Drinks and DUI Checkpoints

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If arrested at a Chester County DUI checkpoint contact Mike DiCindio Chester County DUI Lawyer

With the holiday season fast approaching it is important to be aware that police officers in Chester County and elsewhere in the surrounding areas will be conducting DUI checkpoints. Police utilize sobriety checkpoints in their effort to enforce the drunk driving laws in the state, arrest impaired drivers and keep the roads safer for others. While they may seem completely discretionary and random,  in Pennsylvania sobriety checkpoints must conform to judicially created guidelines in order to be constitutional.

When the police decide that they want to conduct a DUI checkpoint, there is a process and procedure that must be followed. The process and guidelines for a constitutionally acceptable DUI checkpoint are known as the Tarbert – Blouse guidelines. This name comes from the two cases in which the guidelines were first announced. The goal of the guidelines was to safeguard against completely arbitrary roadblocks. Further, it makes sure that constitutional rights are not infringed upon at any time during the course of the DUI checkpoint.

The five guidelines that were adopted by the Court in the Blouse case that will allow a checkpoint to be constitutionally appropriate are as follows:

(1) the vehicle stop must be brief and must not include a physical search;

(2) sufficient warning of the existence of the checkpoint is a MUST;

(3) the decision to conduct a checkpoint, as well as the decisions as to time and place for the checkpoint, must be subject to prior administrative approval;

(4) the choice of time and place for the checkpoint must be based on local experience as to where and when intoxicated drivers are likely to be traveling; and

(5) the decision as to which vehicles to stop at the checkpoint must be established by administratively pre-fixed, objective standards, and must not be left to the unfettered discretion of the officers at the scene.
                                                        (See, Commonwealth v. Worthy,  957 A.2d 720 (PA. 2008))

Law enforcement must keep the records of compliance with all of these guidelines. It is not uncommon that while running a DUI checkpoint, some of the guidelines may be missed or not followed. For example, if it is a particularly busy night and the DUI checkpoint has created a large amount of traffic, police cannot arbitrarily begin to allow cars to pass the checkpoint without being stopped – there must be an established “choke point” where, if traffic reaches, the police will then allow cars to pass the checkpoint until it has cleared. Any of these missteps will turn a vehicle stop into an unconstitutional vehicle stop.

If you have been arrested for DUI as a result of a sobriety checkpoint vehicle stop, contact Mike DiCindio directly in order to discuss your case.

 


The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant.  The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments.  These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances.  Please contact DiCindio Law for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case.

Mike DiCindio is a criminal defense lawyer who represents individuals accused of crimes throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale as well as in Montgomery County, Lancaster County, Delaware County, Philadelphia County, Bucks County and Berks County.

 

 

DUI law amendment – New and Important Changes

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Contact West Chester DUI lawyer Mike DiCindio to discuss your case today.

On October 27, 2014, a new Act was passed that has amended the DUI law in Pennsylvania in a few ways. While all are important changes, one in particular solidifies that a second offense DUI offender who has refused testing in now facing a maximum sentence of 5 years.

In 2013, in the case of Commonwealth v. Musau, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the sentence of 90 days to 5 years of imprisonment was illegal, and ruled that the maximum sentence allowable for a second offense DUI when the individual refuses chemical testing is six months.

A skilled DUI lawyer should be consulted with no delay after being arrested for a DUI offense.

The law, as now amended, has addressed the language in the statute that created the argument advanced by Musau’s attorney. Therefore, now a second offense DUI when the accused refuses chemical testing is clearly a charge punishable by a 5 year maximum.

It is now crucial that when one is accused of a second offense DUI and they refused chemical testing that a skilled and knowledgeable DUI attorney is retained to evaluate the case and properly advise and guide one through the process.

Contact Mike DiCindio today to schedule your free consultation.

“Per se DUI in Pennsylvania”

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Contact West Chester DUI lawyer and Criminal Defense Lawyer Mike DiCindio

Under the current Pennsylvania DUI Laws, the prosecution does not always need to prove that a driver was “impaired” or “intoxicated” while operating a motor vehicle in order to prove they were guilty of DUI. The Pennsylvania DUI statute as it currently stands provides for what are called, “per se” levels – levels of drugs or alcohol, that if found in the blood within two hours of operating a motor vehicle, one is guilty of the offense of DUI.

In Pennsylvania the legal limit for alcohol is .08%. Therefore, if someone is found to have a blood alcohol content of .08% or above, within two hours of operating a motor vehicle, he/she is guilty of “per se” DUI whether or not impaired or manifesting the signs of intoxication.

While this may be true by the letter of the law, in a practical application there are very few situations where someone should be charged with DUI without manifesting signs of intoxication or consumption. This is because before an officer is permitted to transport someone for chemical testing, there must be some facts or indications that provide a legal justification to take him/her for such a test – the blood test must be supported by a sufficient level of legal suspicion. (This is in conjunction with the implied consent law discussed in a previous post)

When someone is charged with a DUI, it is crucial to have an experienced lawyer thoroughly analyze the facts and circumstances surrounding your DUI arrest before taking any action or waiving your rights to contest the charges. There is often an argument to be made that the police officer was not legally justified in taking a breath or blood test in the first place.

Contact Mike DiCindio directly to schedule your free consultation today. 

***This blog is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading, youunderstand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used, nor is it meant to be, as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney. This blog also does not discuss all aspects of the topics involved or the bill that has been placed into effect***

Prior Bad Acts, Crimes or Wrongs – Chester County Criminal Defense

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         Often times in a criminal case in Chester County, or any of the surrounding counties, prosecutors will attempt to introduce evidence of an accused’s prior bad acts, or evidence or other crimes. This can be devastating to a successful defense in a criminal case. This may happen in a case where identity is at issue or where intent is an element that the Commonwealth must be prove – among others. One of the common times that this would happen would be in a case of violence where the charges are simple assault or aggravated assault and the Commonwealth must prove that the attack was intentional.

              By law, before the Commonwealth may introduce these “prior bad acts” they must first put the criminal defendant on notice. Typically, this required notice is accomplished by advising an accused’s criminal defense lawyer that they intend to do so. This evidence in a criminal case, if admitted, is not permitted to be used to show a criminal defendant’s “bad character”, or to say, “they have done it once, now they have done it again.” Because of the intricacies of this type of argument and the great potential impact having these “prior acts” introduced into evidence may have on a criminal case, it is crucial that an individual accused of a crime have an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to analyze the case, the facts, the law and argue against allowing this type of evidence being admissible.

Your past should not be used to help prove new criminal accusations against you.

             Evidence of an accused’s other crimes, wrongs, or bad acts, is generally not admissible solely to show action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion in a criminal case. See Pa.R.E. 404. More specifically, this evidence is inadmissible to prove a defendant’s propensity to commit the crime for which he is being tried. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(1); see also Commonwealth v. Lockcuff, 813 A.2d 857, 860 (Pa. Super. 2002). Evidence of other crimes may however be admissible when the evidence serves a legitimate evidentiary purpose, and is not merely offered to prejudice the defendant. See Commonwealth v. Weakley, 972 A.2d 1182, 2009 Pa. Super 74 (2009). It is a skilled criminal defense attorneys job to argue against allowing this type of evidence into a criminal case.

              The Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence provide a non-exhaustive list of legitimate evidentiary purposes that past crimes may be admitted to prove. See Pa. R.Evid. 404(b). Of those listed, other crimes of an accused may be admitted to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2). Further, while one or more admissible purpose must be present before evidence of an accused’s prior bad acts can be admitted, even if a legitimate evidentiary purpose is found by a Court, the evidence still is admissible only if the probative value of the evidence outweighs its potential for unfair prejudice. Pa.R.E. 404(b)(2). Therefore, a criminal defense attorney must be prepared to know the law and argue effectively against one of the enumerated purposes, or other legitimate evidentiary purpose, and also be prepared to show the Court why the evidence a prosecutor is attempting to admit has a potential for unfair prejudice that outweighs the probative value.

            When the Commonwealth places a criminal defendant on notice that it intends to introduce evidence of “prior bad acts” often times a criminal defense attorney must file a motion in limine in order to ask the Court to address the argument and make a determination as to the admissibility of the evidence the Commonwealth seeks to introduce. A criminal defense lawyer is needed to effectively and aggressively defend against this type of evidence being ruled admissible.

If you have been accused of a crime in Chester County, Montgomery County or the greater Philadelphia area, and you believe your prior actions or crimes may, or have already, become an issue in your case – Contact Mike DiCindio directly today to schedule your free consultation.  

***This blog is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used, nor is it meant to be, as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.***

When can a Police Officer stop a car for suspicion of DUI / Drunk Driving?

Chester County DUI Lawyer

Contact West Chester DUI lawyer and Criminal Defense Lawyer Mike DiCindio

What does a Police Officer need to observe before he is permitted to legally stop a vehicle under suspicion of DUI / drunk driving?

 

Under the vehicle code, a police officer in Chester County, or anywhere in Pennsylvania, may conduct an investigatory detention if he has reasonable suspicion to believe that a motorist violated a provision of the motor vehicle code.  (For example, he suspects the driver is committing a DUI or drunk driving offense)  In order to establish grounds for reasonable suspicion an officer must, “articulate specific observations which, in conjunction with reasonable inference derived from those observations, led him reasonably to conclude, in light of his experience, that criminal activity was afoot and that the person he stopped was involved in that activity.” Commonwealth v. Basinger, 982 A.2d 121, 125 (Pa. Super. 2009); Commonwealth v. Sands, 887 A. 2d 261, 272 (Pa. Super. 2005). Further, a traffic stop may be conducted based on reasonable suspicion particularly in cases where the suspicion is whether the driver is operating under the influence – or DUI / drunk driving. See, Commonwealth v. Sands, 887 A. 2d 261, 272 (Pa. Super. 2005).

When reasonable suspicion exists, a vehicle stop stop shall only be valid if the stop furthers the purpose behind the stop. Commonwealth v. Chase, 960 A.2d 108 (Pa. 2008).  In other words, the police officer must be able to gain more evidence from conducting the stop.  (Was the driving tired and that is why he was swerving or was he really DUI?  Does he smell like alcohol?  Did he just swerve by accident?)  Stopping the vehicle must provide an officer with more evidence – to further investigate, and confirm or dispel the suspicions.  In cases where the stop would not provide any more evidence that may confirm or dispel an officer’s suspicions, he/she must possess the higher standard of probable cause before pulling a vehicle over.

A criminal defense attorney must understand the law and be willing to fight for his client in every DUI case. courthouse2

In Chester County, a skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to file a motion to suppress the stop of a vehicle in a DUI case when the evidence shows the officer did not have reasonable suspicion.  Often times, an officer may not be able to provide or testify to enough details about an individuals driving to rise to the level of reasonable suspicion.  In those cases, a criminal attorney will file the motion to suppress, take testimony of the officer, and argue to the Court that the officer conducted an illegal stop.  If the motion the defense attorney files is granted, the evidence flowing from the illegal stop is suppressed – the DUI will not be able to stand.

While, “the determination of whether an officer had reasonable suspicion that criminality was afoot so as to justify an investigatory detention is an objective one, which must be considered in light of the totality of the circumstances.” Commonwealth v. Holmes, 14 A.3d 89 (Pa. 2011); citing, Commonwealth v. Chase, 960 A.2d 108, 120 (Pa. 2008) (“[r]easonable suspicion sufficient to stop a motorist must be viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer” (citing, Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690 (1996))); Commonwealth v. Rogers, 849 A.2d 1185, 1189 (Pa. 2004).  It is still something that a criminal defense lawyer MUST be analyze in every DUI / drunk driving case, or in any case involving a motor vehicle stop, before proceeding.

If you have a pending DUI / drunk driving case – contact Mike DiCindio today for your free consultation.

 

 

***This blog is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used, nor is it meant to be, as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.***